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Star Wars: An Islamic Perspective

Posted in Art, Books/Magazines, Islam, Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2011 by irydhan

As most “Star Wars” fans know, director George Lucas took spiritual elements, which are common in most major world religions to create his epic saga of good vs. evil.  As a Muslim, I always thought of the “Jedi” as what a true follower of Islam should be like.  Never mind the fact Jedi masters with their North African style cloaks and scruffy beards look like Sufi Sheikhs, but they way they are taught to respect a greater power, fight for the defense of the innocent and honor a code of morals and ethics in order to bring about peace and justice to their society, is basically what Islam teaches all Muslims to strive for.  So what really is the connection between these similar Islamic principles and the fictional “Jedi Order” of the Star Wars saga?

I decided to look into this question more deeply.  What I came across from my research off the internet and talking to other Muslim “Star Wars” fans was not only surprising, but also a bit scary.  For example it was reported in a National Australian magazine that more than 70,000 Australians identified their religion as Jedi, Jedi-Knight, or Jedi-related in the country’s 2001 national census!  Don’t these people realize that the “Jedi” are make-believe?  There may be some truth in fiction, but instead of looking for the truth, people get caught up with the fiction.  In this paper I hope to reveal where some of the truth of the “Jedi” and “Star Wars” comes from: Islam.

Back when “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” first came out, “The Muslim Magazine”  had some interesting pieces on the connections between Islam and the content of the Star Wars films. One was an interview with Dhul-Nun Owen who talks about how George Lucas had contacted members of the “Habibiyyah Sufi Order” in Berkeley, CA in order to do research for “Star Wars.” There was also a piece by Mahmoud Shelton about how Sufi ideas of spiritual chivalry (“futuwwat”) have parallels in the Jedi teachings.

Surfing the internet, I came across an interesting article entitled “Eternal Jihad: The Way of the Mystic-Warrior” from a Sufi website:

“We are at the core a Movement of Jedi; masters of Futuwwat (“the Way of the mystic-warrior”). We encourage adherents to train both physically AND spiritually, for their own personal edification and to enhance their knowledge and abilities in the STRUGGLE. The Real does not lie alone in contemplation, prayer and meditation; nor does it lie alone in action and revolution. Both of these are notions of “one or the other” and Allah is not “one or the other.” “Allah” literally means “the One[ness] which manifests from Nothing.” As we have stressed before, this “Nothing” is not the “lack” of all, but rather, it is Nothing in the sense of Totality of Being, which is symbolized by the numeral zero – this number itself originated with Sufis. Allah is neither the positive alone, nor the negative. Allah is the perfect balance between the two. The direct center of two polarities is always zero, Pure Nothing, from which the Totality, the Tawhid (Unity), the Oneness of ALL becomes manifest. For it is out of zero that all subsequent positive and negative numbers reel. That is Allah.”

Notice the Arabic term “al-Jeddi” (master of the mystic-warrior way) along with another Islamic term not mentioned, “Palawan” (similar to Lucas’ “Padwan” for Jedi apprentice) which were actual titles used by Muslim Knights!

The Force

“The Force” is the common thread between all six movies and is defined as an energy field, which binds all living things together  (i.e. Allah, God, a Supreme Being or Power that most religion’s adherents worship, follow and/or yearn to become a part of).  According to Star Wars mythology, the Jedi “are a noble order of protectors unified by their belief and observance of the Force.”

George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars films, has attributed the origins of “The Force” to the film 21-87 (dir. Arthur Lipsett) which used samples from many sources.”One of the audio sources Lipsett sampled for 21-87 [a film that had a great influence on Lucas] was a conversation between artificial intelligence pioneer Warren S. McCulloch and Roman Kroitor , a cinematographer who went on to develop IMAX. In the face of McCulloch’s arguments that living beings are nothing but highly complex machines, Kroitor insists that there is something more: ‘Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things, they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us, and they call it God.”

In Islam, Allah has no image, body or form that humans can imagine or even comprehend.  Allah is a supreme being of positive energy and goodness which was there before time (in the understanding of human beings), and will be there at the end of time.  According to the teachings of Islam, Allah blows his spirit into all living things and thus, we humans are inherently good in nature.  Because human beings have free will to do good or bad, we have the potential to be a medium of positive energy and goodness, or we can succumb to our animal desires (“Nafs” in Arabic) and suppress this inherent goodness we all have inside of us, to do evil instead. This is similar to the description of the Force given by Yoda in “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”, where he says: “It’s [The Force] energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we…(Yoda pinches Luke’s shoulder)…not this crude matter [Flesh]. You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you…me…the tree…the rock…everywhere!”


The “Jedi” study and train under the apprentice-master relationship similar to how many religious students study under a priest or religious scholar until they have learned enough to teach and train the next generation of students. From a Muslim perspective, the similarities between the Jedi and the Islamic traditions of instruction are strikingly similar.  For example a Muslim scholar usually trains under a Sheikh for a number of years before they are given the right or permission (“Ijazah” in Arabic) to professionally teach others about Islam.  “In Islamic Sufism Sheikhs will have “silsilas” that list the chain of teachers going back to the Prophet Muhammad (S). A “silisia” indicates a Sheikh’s lineage of mystical learning from which he draws his spiritual authority.”

Similarly in the “Jedi” tradition of Star Wars, each “Padwan” (apprentice) is taught the same tradition and skills their Jedi masters were taught by their previous masters.  “Star Wars” fans know the lineage of Jedi instruction starting from “Yoda” to “Count Dooku” to “Qui-Gon Jinn” to “Obi Wan Kenobi” to “Anakin Skywalker.”
In the first Star Wars movie, “Episode IV: A New Hope,” Luke Skywalker, like his father, Anakin, live in the desert (The desert planet of “Tatooine” was actually filmed near the real desert town of “Tataouine” in Tunisia).  From among this remote desert area with no roots of a civilized urban society, a “Chosen One” (i.e. a Prophet) arises who brings a hope of peace and justice to their society.  Anakin is the “chosen one” in the latest Star Wars films, and Luke can be considered the “chosen one” from the original Star Wars trilogy.

Similarly, the Prophet of Islam, lived in the desert where there was no true rule of law or justice and people followed the tribal system of blood vengeance.  Prophet Muhammad (S) brought Islam to the Arabs, which completely changed their way of thinking and the way they lived their lives.  Instead of living for the present and for themselves, as Muslims they live for the hereafter and are taught to take care of the poor, orphans, those less fortunate than themselves and to fight for social justice and well being for the whole community.

Thus the Jedi too is taught to be selfless and not selfish like the “Sith” (An ancient order of Force-practitioners devoted to the dark side and determined to destroy the Jedi).  Just as “Yoda” taught young “padwans” not to give into fear and be tempted by the “Dark Side” (i.e. temptations of the devil or “Shaytaan” in Arabic), Muslims are taught not to be attached to the “Dunya” (life in this world) nor to fall prey to the diseases of the heart (jealousy, envy, fear, hatred, etc.) as they lead to evil and sin.

As well known American Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf states: “Every criminal, miser, abuser, scoffer, embezzler, and hateful person does what he or she does because of a diseased heart. If hearts were sound, these actions would no longer be a reality. So if you want to change our world, do not begin by rectifying the outward. Instead, change the condition of the inward. Everything we see happening outside of us is in reality coming from the unseen world within. It is from the unseen world that the phenomenal world emerges, and it is from the unseen realm of our hearts that all actions spring.”

The Green One

There is an interesting connection between the Jedi master “Yoda” (a short, green skinned creature first seen in “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”) and Islamic traditions.  “Al-Khidr” means “the Green One” in Arabic. Qur’ânic commentators say that al-Khidr is one of the prophets; others refer to him simply as an angel who functions as a guide to those who seek God. And there are yet others who argue for his being a perfect wali meaning the one whom God has taken as a friend.

So in other words “Yoda” (which means “Wise One” in Hebrew) is like an angel or spiritual mentor who guides the young Jedi in the ways of the force and to be strong enough to resist the temptations and evil inclinations of the Sith and other Dark Forces.

In “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi”, the Emperor tries to influence Luke Skywalker to give into his feelings of Anger and Hatred (As we all know Luke’s father Anakin, did fall prey to the Emperor’s whispers and joined the Dark Side). Because the Jedi (as Muslim warriors) are taught that one’s intentions in battle must be pure and that it’s wrong to kill out of anger, even when is outwardly justified.

‘Ali (RA) the nephew of the Prophet Muhammad (S), was faced with this situation at the Battle of the Ditch, the noble Imam ‘Ali had knocked an enemy soldier to the ground and was raising his sword to kill him, when the unbeliever spat in his face. Imam ‘Ali at once stood still and refrained from killing his enemy. Hardly able to believe his own eyes, the unbeliever asked: “Why have you spared me, O gracious one?”

To this, the noble ‘Ali replied: “Your property and your life have become sacrosanct to me. I am not authorized to slay you. I can receive permission to kill only in holy combat, in fighting commanded by Allah. Just a few moments ago, I had overcome you in battle, knocked you to the ground and was on the point of slaying you. But when you spat in my face, my selfish anger was aroused against you. If I had killed you, I would have slain you not for Allah’s sake but for my own selfish reason; they would then have called me not a champion warrior, but a murderer. When you spat in my face, my selfish passion threatened to overwhelm me, so instead of striking you with the sword for my own sake I struck my passion for the sake of Allah, Exalted is He. There you have the reason for your escape.” The unbeliever was of course in awe by Ali’s noble character, and immediately accepted Islam and became Muslim.


The Jedi could be considered “Holy Warriors” (or “Mujahideen” in Arabic) as they fight for truth, justice and peace.  They meditate (i.e. “Dhikr” – remembrance of Allah) as much as they can, to become “one with the force”, even in the midst of battle.  Just as in “Episode I: The Phantom Menace”, the Jedi master, Qui-Gon Jinn (The term “Jinn” in Islam is one of the forces of the “unseen”) begins to meditate in the middle of his battle with “Darth Maul”, while he waits for a force field to go down.

Islamic History is filled with stories of Muslim Warriors who also stop in the heat of the moment of battle to give their prayers to Allah.  Hussein (RA) the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (S) stopped to do his Asr (mid-day prayers) at Karbala.  There is even an account of ‘Ali (RA), known as the “Sword of Light” (light-saber?),  who completed his “Salat” (Arabic for prayers) while he had an arrow stuck in his leg or foot!

“The lack of fear for death exhibited by Jedi Knights Obi Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Qui-Gon Jinn, Luke Skywalker (particularly in Episode VI: “Return of the Jedi”) resembles the Muslim warrior’s creed that states that the Muslim loves death more than the un-believer loves life.”

Just as Jedi’s who fight and die in battle are still alive in spirit form, as evidenced with Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: A New Hope and the Phantom Menace, respectively, Muslim warriors who become Shaheed (Martyrs) are not considered dead.  As stated in the Holy Quran:

“And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: ‘They are dead.’  Nay, they are living, though ye perceive (it) not.  (The Noble Quran, 2:154)”

There are even accounts in Islamic history where noble and pious Muslims, speak to the living from the grave, similar to how Obi Wan Kenobi guides Luke Skywalker from the spirit world after his death.

Hafiz Ibn Kathir writes:

“Zaid ibn Kharjah was one of the pious that talked after his death. When he died and was placed in his coffin, he started to talk and said: ‘I bear witness that Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah and his name Ahmad was mentioned in the previous scriptures (Old Testament and New Testament); and Abu Bakr and ‘Umar were two caliphs and now it is Usman’s Government. Four years have passed and there are two years to go and conflicts will come and Muslims will become weak.’ A lot of scholars verify this narration including Imam Bukhari and Imam al-Bayhaqi.3
There is another saying in Islam, which is “Life in this world is Paradise for the Un-believer and a Prison for the Believer.”  Some reasoning behind this saying is that if one puts all their faith in this world (the “Dunya”), then it is very easy to fall off the straight path and be tempted by Satan (i.e. fall prey to the “Dark Side”).
This is shown very clearly in “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” which is all about the Chosen One’s (Anakin) fall into the dark side.  Lucas, himself stated in an interview that the he chose the final battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan to be on a planet with flowing molten lava and fire, which represents the fires of Hell.  The ultimate showdown between good and evil.

Anakin falls victim to the dark side because he loves power and the Dunya (as he wanted to have the power to live forever and save his loved ones from death – i.e. his wife from dying during childbirth).  He has excessive anger and arrogance (as he felt he was the most powerful Jedi and no other Jedi was better or stronger than him) and distrust for those who are his righteous guides (as he felt Obi-Wan was jealous of him and thought the Jedi Council was against him, which lead him to follow other sinister forces for guidance).  Lastly he had hatred in his heart (he admitted to hating the “sand people”)!9 Everything that Islam teaches the Muslim to avoid!

The Sand People

The “sand people” or the “Tusken Raiders” could be considered a metaphor of the Arabs and other people of the Middle East, since they live similarly to nomadic Arabs in the desert.  In “Episode II: Attack of the Clones”, the Tusken Raiders kidnap and torture Anakin’s mother, Shimi, which eventually leads to her death.  Anakin then proceeds to kill all the “sand people” in vengeance, and as he told “Padme,” that he “killed all of them [sand people], including the women and children.”  But this did not relieve him of his anger and hatred.

I believe Lucas was trying to make a point about the continuous spewing of hate and evil against the Arab and Muslim people, which has been continuing to get worse and worse in mainstream Television and Films out of Hollywood (i.e. “Executive Decision”, “True Lies”, “The Siege”, etc.) and of course after the attacks of September 11th, 2001 – the cat came out of the bag and many more films, television programs and radio shows started to generalize, stereotype and attack Arabs, Muslims and the religion of Islam. This lead to a lot of hate crimes against anyone that even looks like an Arab or Middle Eastern (including some Non-Muslim Hispanic and Latinos).  Many innocent people, specifically women and children, have been harassed, attacked and sometimes even killed, because of this hate.  CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) received 1,717 complaints of hate crimes and attacks on the civil rights of American Muslims within the first 6 months after Sept. 11th.

This wasn’t the only example of Lucas getting political, since after Episode III debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, many Europeans were saying that Anakin represents Bush and his Neo-Con cohorts currently in power.  One couldn’t help but notice the very overt examples in the last and final installment of the “Star Wars” series.

An example that sticks in my mind is when the Emperor was taking control of the Senate.  Senate Palpatine (aka the Emperor) was calling for war against the “separatists” (i.e. read as “insurgents”, “terrorists”, etc.) and the Jedi, all the while the whole Senate erupted in agreement.  Padme (aka Queen Amadala) then says “..So this is how Liberty ends, with thunderous applause”!

Of course the most obvious example was when Anakin tells Obi-Wan before their final duel, “Either you’re with me, or against me”, which is basically straight out of Bush’s mouth when he said “Either you’re with us [i.e. America], or you’re with the terrorists” immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11.

This reminds me of a very funny take on the whole Bush Inspired U.S. “War on Terror” transposed into “Star Wars” mythology I came across on the web.  Here is an excerpt:

It’s believed that Skywalker [Luke] was specifically trained by infamous terrorist O bin Wankanobi. Wankanobi, occasionally called “Ben” and easily recognized by his bearded visage and long, flowing robes, achieved near-martyr status among the Rebels after his death last year during a spy mission. His more fervent followers believe that Wankanobi lives on within them today, some even claiming to hear his voice during times of duress.

The attack on the Death Star came shortly after the Empire’s destruction of Alderstaan, a planet whose government was known to harbor terrorists. Responding to criticism over the total annihilation of the planet, [Darth] Vader stated, “There is no middle ground in the War on Terror. Those who harbor terrorists are terrorists themselves. Alderaan was issued ample warning. The fight for continuing Freedom is often burdened by terrible cost.”

In other words, the Emperor, Darth Vader and the Empire are equivalent to Bush and Company and Luke Skywalker, the Jedi and the Rebel Alliance are referred to as “terrorists” (or “separatists”, “insurgents”, etc.).

The Jedi Arts

The most popular aspects of the “Star Wars” films are the exciting light-saber duels and swordsmanship (Lucas is an admitted fan of old Samurai films) and martial arts style fighting (which of course originates from the East).  As a former student of “Eskrima Serrada” (Stick and Blade fighting developed by Muslims of the Philippines) myself, I see a lot of similarities in the fast-moving and short-range fighting I studied for about two years, and the “invented” art of the Jedi masters.
When Anakin fights Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) at the beginning of the last “Star Wars” film, at end of the fight, Anakin applies a disarm and cut that is a technique from Eskrima to Count Dooku’s arm. Going back into history, the technical differences between the Japanese/Chinese arts and the Muslim arts of Southeast Asia regions of Indonesia, Philippines, and Malaysia:  The Muslim arts of “Pentjak Silat” and Eskrima are based on paying attention to the Limb of the attacker and not an immediate strike to the attacker’s head or torso.

Ray Park, who plays “Darth Maul” in “Episode I: The Phantom Menace”, studied Kung Fu (very similar to the empty hand techniques of Serrada) and Wushu and frequently traveled to Malaysia (a Muslim country) to refine and develop his skills.
The spiritual basis of the Muslim arts of Southeast Asia is very immense. This is the
local Sufi expression of Islam, through martial arts practice, rather than through poetry or music as otherwise done in India and Turkey, etc. Traditional Indonesian/Malay folklore attributes initial design of these arts to Muslim saints in the region of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines in the 7th Century. The Silat system is attributed to nine main Wali or saints, also called the Wali Songo in Indonesian language.

Here another example of the Sufi and Jedi connection.  As Jedi’s study the force and train in the “Jedi Arts” under the apprentice-master relationship, so do the Sufis.

“What I term the more Sufi exercises include breathing exercises, means of meditative contemplation, and physical exercises. This last activity is practiced within the Qadiri-Rifai Sufi order through the Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat Gerakan Suci. Here is a prime example of the Order’s growth. Extending beyond its originally Turkish character, the Order has adopted a Muslim practice from a far corner of the Islamic world.”


From my brief amount of research and study into the “Star Wars” saga, I found many examples connecting the ideals and principles of Islam to that of the fictional Jedi Order.  Some of the similarities were clearly visible (as with the relations between the Jedi master, apprentice and the Force to that of the Sufi Sheikhs, students and worshipping of Allah), while others were a bit more hidden and surprising finds (such as the term “Jeddi” and “Palawan” for Muslim knights and the story of “al-Khidr” – the green spiritual guru which has an uncanny resemblance to the Jedi Spiritual master “Yoda”)!

Even though Lucas himself is not a follower of any specific religion, he has used elements of Islam (as well as other world religions) to convey the universal understandings of good and evil.  Combining that common thread of humanity with a futuristic space-age setting and exciting martial arts swordsmanship, came a creation that has inspired many, no matter their race, religion or culture.  There is something about the “Star Wars” saga that everyone can relate to and enjoy.  And I hope that those people who are searching for a “truth” within the mythology of “Star Wars”, will look a little deeper behind the fiction and find Al-Islam: A true way of life which emphasizes peace, justice and brotherhood for all humanity.

Irfan Rydhan

Note:  I Originally wrote this in 2005.  It has been published in Q-News (UK), and an updated version was published on ILLUME magazine’s website  in 2008.  Here is the direct link:


Pakistani-American Playhouse Breaks New Ground

Posted in Art, Books/Magazines, Islam, Media with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2011 by irydhan



Imran S. Javaid and Imran W. Sheikh, two young Pakistani-American Muslims, started “Parwaz Playhouse” – the first major Pakistani Theatre Company in the Fall of 2009.  ILLUME caught up with them as they prepare for their latest production – an adaption of Eugene O’Neill’s “Beyond the Horizon”, which will begin performing to audiences on Feb. 25, 2011 in New York City

How did you come up with the idea to start a Pakistani-American Theatre company, and how did you come up with the name “Parwaz Playhouse”?

We both were working on the play “The Domestic Crusaders” by Wajahat Ali, when it was running in New York in Sept of 2009.  While we were doing the rehearsals, I looked around and realized that we are all enjoying what we are doing and why can’t we keep this going and do more productions that focus on brown people like us.  I discussed it with Imran Javaid, who is also a playwright, and he agreed it was a good idea.  We also discussed it with Wajahat, who said we should go for it.  So while working on the Domestic Crusaders, every night we started planning out how to start a theater company, what type of plays we would do, etc.

In terms of the name, I have always been of fan of Rod Serling’s “Playhouse 90”, so I knew I wanted Playhouse in the name of our theater company.  Although we are both Pakistani and wanted to do stories on Pakistan and Pakistani-Americans, we didn’t want to limit ourselves with a name like “Pakistani Playhouse.”  My mother suggested the Urdu word “Parwaz” (meaning “a bird’s first flight”), because it was used a lot by Alama Iqbal (famous Pakistani poet) in many of his ghazzals (urdu poetry).

What was the reaction of your family and friends when you started a Theatre Company for Pakistani-Americans?

IWS: There was a mixed reaction, but majority was positive.  We received many wishes well in support.  Everyone knows that there is a lot of negative images of Pakistanis and Muslims out there, so we feel it is our job to try to get through the negativity and show us as human beings.  Theater is the study of the human condition.  It’s a visual media and that is a key to be able to show American society who we are.  We are giving a voice to our community and people understand that and are supporting us.

Usually there is a negative reaction when someone from our community (Pakistani) goes into a non-traditional field, something outside of medicine, engineering, etc.  But if you study most civilizations, you will see that they start off with agriculture and then once they are settled in, they start getting into the arts.  When our parents came here to this country, it was an alien landscape for them.  They had to sacrifice and basically just work, sleep and take care of the kids.  They stayed in traditional and conservative fields just to survive.  But now it is up to our generation to go into the arts – acting and also politics and other different fields.  We have the luxury to do that now, after our parents sacrificed for us.
Tell us a little about your first production called “Glass”

ISJ: Glass is a 30 minute play I wrote and directed.  We performed it at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in November 2009.  It takes place in a newsroom in a country very similar to Pakistan.  A bombing happens outside and the play is basically about the role of the newspaper during a time of violence and how an editor and star reporter work together to cover the story.  A government minister also visits the newsroom and we see the interaction between government and media.

IWS: The play was also selected for the Downtown Urban Theater Festival in April of 2010 and was one of only 3 performances to sell out to the point where people were turned away during the festival’s  two week run.

Tell us about your latest production, “Beyond the Horizon” and how you adapted it for Pakistanis

ISJ: We chose to do an adaption of “Beyond the Horizon” because it is considered to be one of the first major American tragedies and we thought it would be great as our first full length play for the first Pakistani-American Theatre company.  The original play was written in the 1910’s about a family of Irish descent that lives on a farm.  A farmer has two sons – one who wants to leave the farm and see what’s out in the world and the other who wants to stay on the farm.  And they are also both in love with the same girl.  It’s a 3 act play that shows different time periods in the family’s life and how things don’t go as planned.  It’s a tragedy, and won the Pulitzer in 1920.

Our adaption of the story takes place in 1960’s Pakistan.  We set the play in a village near Karachi.  It also deals with a family that is struggling with how to deal with some members wanting to leave the country and others wanting to stay – basically it is the story of our parent’s generation and how they left Pakistan, leaving many of their family and friends behind.  The love story is still there.  We stayed pretty close to O’Neill’s original story, though we did end up cutting out four of the ten characters so we could pare it down to about 90 minutes from 2 hours and 45 minutes.

What are some of your goals with this play and ultimately with your theatre company?

IWS: We wanted to show our parent’s experience with this story.  Give a window to the public, both Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis, so people can see who we are.  Give a voice to our community.  One of our goals is to encourage more Pakistanis to enter the arts.

ISJ: There are a lot of talented people in our community and we want to create a forum to allow all that talent to flourish.  There are set designers, costume designers, actors, etc.  Art is a great unifier which can bring all these talented people together.  We also want to make bridges to other communities.

IWS: But, at the end of the day, we’re out to produce good and entertaining theatre.  Our ultimate goal is to have an actual brick and mortar building.  But we know that is way down the road.  Right now we are honored to put our play on at Theater for the New City in New York.  They liked our work and they have supported many famous playwrights and actors over the years, so we are very honored to be able to work there.

Islamic influence on American Architecture (Article)

Posted in Architecture, Art, Islam, Media with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2010 by irydhan






Frank Lloyd Wright's Islamically influenced Marin County Civic Center


Islamic influence on the Design of the World Trade Center

Spanish Moor (Islamic) Influence on the Alamo

Lately, there has been a lot of misinformation and hatred toward Islam and Muslims being spewed out by major media outlets, which in turn has caused a lot of fear in the minds of many Americans about Muslims and thus many mosque projects across the country from New York to Tennessee to California are being criticized and sometimes even attacked by arsonists and vandalism.  So it may be helpful to give a little background on Muslims in America, specifically from an Architectural perspective, to help dispel some of this misinformation and fear which some people may have.

First a little history: Before the discovery of North America, many Spanish explorers, who were influenced greatly by Arab and Muslim culture (since Spain was ruled by Muslims for over 700 years), brought with them Moorish (Muslim) style Architecture to the New World.  This very distinct Islamic style architecture can be seen in many of the Spanish Missions across the United States – the most notable one is “The Alamo” in San Antonio Texas.  The Alamo has an “Alfiz” – a rectangular overhang that frames the entire doorway.  This Alfiz was introduced in Spain in the 8th century via the Aljama Mosque.[1] The interior of the Alamo also had geometric patterns of flowers and pomegranates, which had been painted over by the US Army in the mid 1800’s, but were uncovered in 2000.  Bruce Winders, Alamo’s official historian, believed these frescoes resembled the geometric forms of Moorish (Muslim) art  and architecture.[2] Some other examples of Spanish Moor (Islamic) influenced Architecture in the United States include the Mission San Jose in San Antonio, Texas, the San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Arizona and Mission San Carlos in Carmel, CA.

Islamic Architecture greatly influenced many of the great Architects of the United States, which can be seen in some of their most well known buildings. For example here in the S.F. Bay Area, there is the Marin County Civic Center, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Wright designed the building after his trip to Baghdad in the 1950’s.  The Building has a dome, minaret-like antenna and arches. Although it is in San Rafael, the building was designed for natural air cooling similar to buildings in the Middle East.

Interesting to note, the Architect of the World Trade Center, Minoru Yamasaki was commissioned to design the Dhahran Airport in Saudi Arabia in 1961 and a few years later began design on the WTC in which he incorporated some elements of Islamic Architecture such as the pointed arch structural system at the base and an open courtyard flanked by tall towers (similar to the Mosque of the Ka’aba in Saudi Arabia with a large courtyard and tall minarets).

Today, some people do not want a Mosque to be built near “Ground Zero,” yet Ironically there was already a Muslim “prayer space” in the 17th floor of the South Tower[3] which was also destroyed along with many innocent Muslims who worked in the WTC on that tragic day of Sept. 11th, 2001.  Many Muslim First-Responders, Police officers and Firefighters also died that day trying to save their fellow Americans.

In conclusion , Muslims have been a part of America in one way or the other from it’s very beginning.  Historians have determined that as many as 30% of the African Slaves brought to America were originally Muslim.  One of the first recorded mosques in North American history was on Kent Island, Md started by former slave and Islamic Scholar Job Ben Solomon between 1731 and 1733.[4] Today there are more than 2,000 places of Muslim prayer, most of them mosques, in the United States.[5] Islam and Muslims in America are here to stay, and it is time we learn about each other to create a better understanding, rather than continue to spew ignorance and misinformation which only leads to fear and hatred of each other.

[1] Al’ America: Travels Through America’s Arab & Islamic Roots by Jonathan Curiel, pg. 10.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Muslims and Islam were part of Twin Tower’s Life” by Samuel Freedman in the NY Times, Sept. 10, 2010

[4] “Five Myths about Mosques” by Edward Curtis IV in the Washington Post, Aug. 29, 2010

[5] Ibid.

Islamic Influences on American Architecture

Posted in Architecture, Art, Islam with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2010 by irydhan

Below is the power point slide show from a presentation I made in May 2009 to a group of Architects, Engineers and other interested people before a tour of the ISEB mosque in Fremont, CA

Because of all the recent Mosque controversies across the country, I thought some people may be interested to learn more about Mosques in general and Islamically influenced Architecture in the United States.  I think some of you may be pleasantly (or not ) surprised!

Check it out and let me know if you have any questions or comments (NOTE: some of  the text in the slides got cut off or is hard to read do to the transfer from Power Point to Word Press):

Architecture Pakistan: Bhong Mosque

Posted in Architecture, Art, Islam with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2009 by irydhan
Bhong Mosque, Pakistan

Bhong Mosque, Pakistan

Check out this very interesting piece on Architecture in Pakistan, featuring the Bhong Mosque, which received the Agha Khan Award in Architecture in 1986.  The mosque had 50 years of continuous construction from 1932 to 1982! This Article from Pakistan.Com was written by Owais Mughal:

First Islamic Architecture Mosque Tour in the Bay Area

Posted in Architecture, Art, Islam with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2009 by irydhan

The Islamic Society of the East Bay (ISEB) will host its first Islamic Architecture Mosque tour in Fremont, CA. The tour of the 10,000 square foot mosque and recently completed 13,000 square foot school building will be lead by Amin Adil Qazi, Architect,  AIA (American Institute of Architects), and Shakeel Ahmed, PE. The tour will also include a presentation about Islamic influences on American Architecture by Irfan Rydhan, Assoc. AIA.

“This event offers a unique opportunity for the Architectural community to see an example of Islamic architecture in the Bay Area and we invite the whole community to share in the Muslim community’s recently completed Mosque project,” said Irfan Rydhan, Assoc. AIA. He continued by saying,“Islamic Architecture is an important part of the development of Muslim communities in America, and can be enjoyed by the entire community, not just Muslims.”

WHAT:      Architectural Tour of ISEB Mosque
                        Presentation on Islamic influences on American Architecture
                        Observation of Islamic Friday Prayers
                        Complimentary Snacks
WHERE:    33330 Peace Terrace,
                         Fremont, CA 94555
WHEN:       Friday May 1st, 2009
                         1:00p.m. – 3:00p.m.

The tour is Free and open to the general public.  To confirm attendance, please RSVP to Ahsan Baig at
For more information, please visit:

ISEB Mosque Tour Flyer

First Mosque Designed by a Woman in Turkey

Posted in Architecture, Art, Islam with tags , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2009 by irydhan

A friend posted this video clip on facebook about the First Mosque in Turkey designed by a Woman (Zeynep Fadillioglu):

I was impressed with the creativity and look of the Sakirin Mosque in Istanbul, especially with the stylized mihrab, elegant mimbar and blown glass “rain drops” hanging from a chandelier on the inside of the 130 foot diameter dome.  The design is very contemporay, yet very respectful of the past Islamic traditions, such as the Quranic Calligraphy etched into the interior glass.

I look forward to seeing some more innovative Islamic designs around the world by both Muslim Women and Men:)!